Current History of Autism

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Dr. Bruno Bettelheim's theory that children became autistic because of cold and uncaring, as well as distant and disconnected mother's, set back the study of autism for a number of years. His theory of "refrigerator mothers" caused a stigma - some of which remains today. Dr. Bettelheim's setback began in the mid 1960's.

The parent of a child with autism, Dr. Bernard Rimland, strongly disagreed that he or his wife's behavior, toward their son, was the cause of his autism. He disagreed with the philosophy of Bettelheim's "refrigerator mother's " concept. Instead, Rimland focused on the biological basis for autism. He published Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and It's Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior in 1964. The publication of this book started to change the concept for the basis of autism. It led us more clearly to our present day understanding.

In the 1970's the understanding of autism spread to Sweden. A Swedish organization, The Erica Foundation, began education and therapy programs directed at psychotic children beginning the next decade. The first classes in special education, developed specifically for autistic children, began in the middle 1970's. However, the confusion between autism and psychosis continued.

Today there are researchers all across the world working to better understand the mystery of autism. As the studies create more useful programs, in the classroom and at home, those children and adults afflicted with autism are being better served. As they are better served autism is becoming a situation that can be dealt with no matter how severe the problem might be.

So, here we are in the year 2008. There is still no acceptable cause of autism - just possible causes. There are no known cures although there are new ways of helping autistic children to have a better life. The figures, once 1 in 166 and people thinking the number so high, diagnosed with autism, is now 1 in 150. (Generally, out of every five children, born with autism, four of them are boys.) Part of this increase may be due to the fact that the definition for autism has been expanded. Also, many of the children, a part of this statistic, are considered to have a very mild form of autism.

The cause of autism still remains unknown. What is known is that there is something in young children which targets them for autism. Something happens very early in their life that brings on autism. Some people point their fingers at vaccinations. Others say it has to do with a viral illness. Another group believes the environment plays a role leading to autism. Still, the real cause(s) remains unknown. In the situation of a child with Down's Syndrome, for example, we can determine the cause to be that these children have one extra chromosome. As researchers continue their studies of autism, surely, one day in the near future we will know what causes this syndrome.

Will there be a cure for autism? Until we know what causes autism this question cannot be answered. Our present history has learned that early diagnosis is the key to helping the child by receiving early services and treatment.

Jack E. George is the author of two books (The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Educational Center and Call Me Pete). He has taught regular education and most recently, special education classes, specializing in autism, in California. Jack has a Master's Degree in Special Education. His third book: The Autism Hand Book scheduled for release in 2009. www.jackegeorge.com

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